American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
April 2008

Why We Are Bitter

1. Hot Trends: WHY WE ARE BITTER
2. Q & A: DO WE BECOME MORE CONSERVATIVE WITH AGE?
3. Cool Research Links: PREGNANCY RATES, HEALTH INSURANCE
4. New from New Strategist: WHO ARE YOUR BEST CUSTOMERS?

1. Hot Trends

Why We Are Bitter

Americans are bummed out–some might even call us bitter. When asked whether the country is on the right track, a record 81 percent of the public says it has veered off course, according to a recent New York Times survey. The Reuters/University of Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment for April finds consumer confidence at the lowest level since 1982. The percentage of Americans who tell the Gallup daily tracking poll that economic conditions in the country are getting worse, at 85 percent in mid-April, is close to an all-time high.

The roots of our bitterness run much deeper than the housing slump or credit crisis. The roots lie in the circumstances of the nation’s primary breadwinners–men. Men’s earnings are not keeping pace with inflation. This problem started more than two decades ago, but until recently American families have been singing and dancing up the yellow brick road as they made their way to the Emerald City–the American Dream.

Among men working year-round, full-time, median earnings stood at $42,261 in 2006 (the latest data available). But here is the problem: The average man earns less today than he did in 1986, when his median earnings were $44,303 (in 2006 dollars). Between 1986 and 2006, then, the median earnings of the average man with a full-time job fell by more than $2,000, a 5 percent decline. Blue-collar workers are not the only ones who have felt the pinch, either. After years of steadily rising wages, the median earnings of college-educated men peaked in 2002. Their earnings have fallen 3 percent since then.

Until recently, Americans have been largely unaware of these worrisome trends because women’s growing incomes hid the decline in men’s earnings. Between 1986 and 2006, the median earnings of women who work full-time grew 14 percent, after adjusting for inflation. That earnings growth not only masked the decline in men’s earnings, it also boosted household incomes to record highs. Women were proud of their jobs. Men were proud of their family’s rising standard of living.

Now we have reached the end of the road. We are at the Emerald City, but something is not right. Women’s median earnings peaked in 2002 and have fallen 4 percent since then. Just when we thought we had achieved the American Dream, the curtain has fallen away from the Wizard and revealed him to be nothing more than our own ever-harder work. Our standard of living has been rising all these years not because workers are earning more, but because households are sending more workers into the labor force. There is nobody left to earn an additional paycheck unless we put our children to work. Median household income peaked in 1999, but costs continue to rise. In a world where globalization and technological change are rewriting the rules, Americans have finally noticed that they are not in Kansas anymore.

By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications
If you have any questions or comments about the above editorial, e-mail New Strategist at demographics@newstrategist.com.

 

BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW

Percentage of Americans who think
most people can be trusted: 36.

2. Q & A

Do We Become More Conservative with Age?

The notion that people become increasingly conservative with age is more myth than reality. Survey data show that political perspectives are remarkably stable, changing little once they have formed in young adulthood. The idea that people become more conservative with age is based on the fact that older Americans are more conservative than younger ones. True enough. But most of them did not become more conservative with age; they started out that way.

In the United States today, each succeeding generation is less conservative than the preceding one. The nation’s youngest adults are the ones most likely to identify themselves as liberal, according to the 2006 General Social Survey. In fact, the millennial generation (the oldest of whom turned 29 in 2006) is the only one in which liberals outnumber conservatives. Thirty-four percent of millennials say they are liberal, while a smaller 30 percent say they are conservative.

Many think boomers became more conservative with age, and there is some data to support that claim. In 1976, a substantial 42 percent of older boomers (at the time, the generation spanned the ages from 12 to 30, and only those aged 18 or older were asked the question) identified themselves as liberal. The proportion fell sharply as Ronald Reagan turned the “liberal” label into an insult. By 1986 (when boomers were aged 22 to 40) only 27 percent of boomers identified themselves as liberal–a figure that has not changed significantly in three decades. In 2006, a nearly identical 25 percent of boomers identified themselves as liberal. Similarly the percentage of boomers who identify themselves as conservative has barely changed since the mid-1980s. In 1986, 36 percent of boomers identified themselves as conservative. In 2006, the figure was almost the same at 35 percent.

Will millennials drop the “liberal” label as their attitudes solidify in the next few years? Since the term “liberal” is enjoying a comeback of sorts, it is doubtful that millennials will shed it as readily as older boomers once did. Millennials may end up being the most liberal generation ever.

By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications
If you have any questions or comments about the above Q & A, e-mail New Strategist at demographics@newstrategist.com.

 

BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW

During an average day, blacks spend twice as much time as the average person participating in religious activities.

3. Cool Research Links

To keep up-to-date on ever-changing demographics and lifestyles, check out these useful links.

Six Million Pregnancies
American women give birth to about 4 million children a year, but there are many more pregnancies–6 million. Every now and then the federal government takes a look at who gets pregnant and what happens to those pregnancies. Among unmarried women in 2004, for example, only 35 percent of pregnancies ended in an abortion–down from 47 percent in 1990, which explains in part the increase in out-of-wedlock births.

Large Firms Carry Burden of Health Insurance
Large firms increasingly carry the burden of providing health insurance for the employees of small firms. That is the finding in “Changes in Family Health Insurance Coverage for Small and Large Firm Workers and Dependents: Evidence from 1995 to 2005,” a study by the Small Business Administration available at this link. Among two-earner couples in 2005 in which one spouse worked for a large firm and the other spouse worked for a small firm, 51 percent of the small-firm spouses were covered as dependents by the large-firm spouse’s health insurance plan–up from 47 percent in 1995. The percentage of small-firm spouses with coverage through their own employer fell from 41 to 36 percent during those years.

 

 

BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW

Percentage of households paying interest on a home equity loan: 4.

4. WHO ARE YOUR BEST CUSTOMERS? ARE YOU SURE?

As a recession looms over the United States, getting accurate, agenda-free answers to how much consumers spend and what they spend it on is key to generating successful new products, developing winning marketing plans, and creating innovative policies.

You can get those answers from these New Strategist titles:

 

 

 

  • Household Spending: Who Spends How Much on What, 12th ed.
    (ISBN 978-1-933588-29-2) If Americans buy it, you can probably find out how much they spend on it in Household Spending, which gives you spending answers for hundreds of products by the demographics that count–age, income, household type, high-income households, region of residence, race and Hispanic origin, and education. The book’s eleven chapters examine everything a household might buy, from laundry detergent and milk to big-ticket items like homes and cars. Household Spending is available in print and in a searchable pdf linked to spreadsheets for every table in the book.

 

 

Download the pdf and/or get the book. Or download the pdf for use by your entire company by getting a site license. All are available at New Strategist’s web site.

 

  • The Who’s Buying Series. These fourteen indispensable guides, which can be purchased singly or as a discounted package, detail the spending of both the biggest customers–those who control the greatest market share–and the best customers–those who spend the most. They are not always the same. Each volume brings you the numbers along with “who-are-the-best-customers” analyses of the data, showing at a glance the demographics of household spending, product by product.
    • Who’s Buying Apparel, 3rd ed. (978-1-933588-55-1) Who buys apparel and shoes for infants, boys and girls, men and women, plus jewelry, watches, sewing materials, laundering and dry cleaning.
    • Who’s Buying Alcoholic and Nonalcoholic Beverages, 4th ed. (978-1-933588-54-4) Who buys beer, wine, whiskey, and other alcoholic beverages at home, on trips, and at restaurants and bars. Also who buys colas, coffee and tea, fruit-flavored drinks, milk, etc., at grocery and convenience stores.
    • Who’s Buying Entertainment, 4th ed. (978-1-933588-56-8) Who buys sports and photographic equipment, sound components and TVs, videogames, movie and theater tickets, and much more.
    • Who’s Buying Groceries, 5th ed. (978-1-933588-57-5) How much Americans spend on food for home consumption. The 84 items range from bacon and instant coffee to frozen vegetables and steak.
    • Who’s Buying Health Care, 4th ed. (978-1-93358858-2) Who is spending out-of-pocket on health insurance, medical services, drugs, vitamins, eyeglasses and contact lenses, etc.
    • Who’s Buying Household Furnishings, Services, and Supplies, 5th ed. (978-1-933588-59-9) Who is buying furniture, rugs, sheets and towels, refrigerators, day care, lawn care, stationery, etc.
    • Who’s Buying Information Products and Services, 4th ed. (978-1-933588-60-5) Who buys computers, books, newspapers, telephone service, televisions, etc.
    • Who’s Buying for Pets, 5th ed. (978-1-933588-61-2) Who buys pet food, supplies and medicine, veterinary services, etc.
    • Who’s Buying at Restaurants and Carry-Outs, 5th ed. (978-1-933588-62-9) Who buys breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and snacks at fast and full-service restaurants, vending machines, school and work cafeterias.
    • Who’s Buying Transportation, 4th ed. (978-1-933588-63-6) Who buys new and used cars and trucks, gasoline and motor oil, public transportation, vehicle insurance, vehicle maintenance, etc.
    • Who’s Buying for Travel, 4th ed. (978-1-933588-64-3) Who buys airline and ship fares, luggage, lodging, food, alcohol, auto rental, and recreational expenses on trips, etc.
    • Who’s Buying by Age, 2nd ed. (978-1-933588-51-3) The only published source for weekly and quarterly spending data on what households buy and how much they spend, and also how often they buy certain items.
    • Who’s Buying by Race and Hispanic Origin, 3rd ed. (978-1-933588-53-7) The demographics of spending by race and Hispanic origin on hundreds of products and services in ten major categories ranging from apparel to transportation.
    • Who’s Buying: Executive Summary of Household Spending, 3rd ed. (978-1-933588-52-0) A broad overview of spending that provides insights into consumer spending patterns and how those patterns differ by demographic characteristic.

    Download the pdf and/or get the book. Or download the pdf for use by your entire company by getting a site license. All are available at New Strategist’s web site.